Inquiry: Coming of Age in the Twenty-First Century?

Source: Pexels

by LJ Frank

“For something I have not lost I am searching.” Babylonian Talmud: Shabbath fo. 152a. (440 C.E.)

Coming of age is a malleable practice and process (ceremony) of achieving a stage of growth of belongingess, within any given tribe, family, culture, and society. 

Before the 21st century it chronologically implied a person from age 15 to 21, relative to the culture (including geographical location, biology, gender, religious beliefs, customs, traditions, prominence, recognition, respect and so forth). Historically, it’s a process of helping a person to belong rather than the “marginalization” of the person. There are varied coming of age traditions around the world. Each ritual brings a history and psychology along with challenges, e.g.  attitudes are affected by such transitions.  Superstition and magic are core ingredients. Shaman and tribal leaders offered animals, humans, and objects of value as part of e.g., cultural-sacrificial coming of age practices. 

Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises, observed a pattern of behavior in which he used the words, “gradually, then suddenly.” In modern practices wealth and position in given societal structures appear to factor in calibrating meaning for coming of age, things may happen gradually then suddenly, one example is  surveillance capitalism . The list is rather long. An alarm can be followed by a revolution. Ceaseless are the wars and battles from heated to cyber altering further the landscape of the idea that is with us today, as if war itself was a generational coming of age ritual.

 The transition from childhood and adult in an age of high technologies is in the editing of traditional paradigms. That is, high technologies permeate every aspect of our existence, even when not using them. We are surrounded and at times overwhelmed by the marketing, the positive and negative benefits and manipulations and downstream effects created by our technologies. 

Truth based on the facts can be mutated and modified to match or substantiate a belief or doubt.

The human fueled climate change (e.g., energy transition) increases and disrupts nature’s cycles affecting the health and wellness of individuals, communities and civilization itself.  Is off the grid a dated coming of age ritual on a planet that is approaching or already reached the technological singularity, where we are beyond the point of no return? What is the relevancy of coming of age – within the human capability to destroy civilization within hours and days?

Our technologies enhance and affect our quality of life and determine its existence. Much money is spent on technologies that redefine work, relationships and influence a person’s fate. How does one mature when another is able to decide on whether I live or die and based on what? Maturity increasingly involves adaptation beyond a static ritual. And rituals and rites of passage become increasingly dated at a faster rate when superstition is involved while technologies out distance our philosophies, theologies, and social constructs. 

And if I don’t have access to those technologies (The Internet, I-phone, Zoom, etc.) my participation in a high technology society is stymied and I am marginalized so why would coming of age rituals mean anything to me?

Maturity may reach us at any age from ten to ninety assuming we live that long but there’s no guarantee for those that pull the strings who may yet accidentally program data-based misinformation or disinformation and the wrong button is pushed (physically or mentally) and the process triggers the unstoppable. In other words, does power and money have the assets (including technologies) and capability to delay maturity and the transition? Whose controlling who?

Have we returned to the beginning of the circle of life and a Ecclesiastes emptiness? The entire psychology of coming of age is perhaps suspended in the paradox of a Catch 22 let alone an existential quicksand.

If visually oriented I may perceive the ritual of growth looking at an old black and white film or photograph in search of a transitional period and notice that the character lines of the person face and events appear to become lost in the coloring process. On a philosophical level of visualization, what I thought I visualized as shallow may become deep and that which was visualized as deep, may become shallow.

Coming of Age may imply I can escape my world through other’s eyes and not my own unless I have the network, a bit of luck, being in the right place at the right time, and people to help me realize that I have arrived. But where have I arrived? Is the future coming of age merely to be found in my yoga pose and the uttering of OM amid a disturbingly impoverished plight? Are we relegated to ritualistically, e.g., charting our future through our horoscope, as the astronomer Carl Sagan suggested?

Or perhapsthe idea and tradition has come to signify that maturity is not constrained or defined by age, wealth, a ritual, custom, tradition or biology, and we have become witness to a concept and activity whose marking of time and growth is essentially obsolete. 

The need to adapt is increasingly salient as the “hardware & software” design and content of our lives has moved beyond any physical or metaphysical roots into the emerging human machine paradigm where the machine and human are extensions of each other. 

Perhaps, creating rites of passage in the twenty first century is an opportunity to adapt the ancient, with the reality of the now.